ALBUM REVIEWS SPECIAL/Dominic Valvona

Motorists  ‘Surrounded’
(We Are Time/Bobo Integral/Debt Offensive)  3rd September 2021

Ah, for the mythology of rock music’s open road, highway 66 kicks and Kerouac misadventures. It seemed the easiest of escapes to new horizons; to hit the road U.S.A style and take in all the pit stop catalysts of rock ‘n’ roll lore. Not so easy to disappear now of course, the use of sat navs more or less keeping to a regimented map, with little in the way, or room, to shoot off on detours, and to come across surprises. Also, we’re all tracked, moving dots on a data system unable to truly run free.

Fueling this jangly Canadian trio’s automobile, those same tropes come up head-on with the actual realities of driving in the 21st century: gridlocks, congestion and nothing but bad juju on the radio. Motorists however do head down that fabled motorway as best they can; making for the open road with a carload of friends, the dial tuned into a new wave and power pop soundtrack of the Athens, Georgia sound, The Church, Teenage Fanclub and the Paisley Underground scene.  

However, they don’t so much cruise as motorik down a road less well travelled, as the Toronto group navigate the pandemic and the resulting anxieties of isolation, distress and mental fatigue that’s cursed most of us in a new pandemic reality. The album’s precursor lead track (recently featured on the blog) ‘Through To You’ was about a yearning to connect once more: what better way then a road trip. But isolation means different things to different people. The group’s guitarist and Alex Chilten-shares-the-mouthwash-with-Tom Verlaine styled vocalist Craig Fahner is concerned with the kind of “isolation” you find in “a technologically saturated society, laden with romanticism around radical togetherness.”

The trio’s debut album is a spaghetti junction of suffocation and melodious despondency that opens with the titular album song, ‘Surrounded’, a lovely jangle backbeat of Green On Red and R.E.M.ish influences that features a downbeat dissatisfaction with everywhere they lay their hat: the city, “too many creeps, too many bars”; suburbs, “too many houses, and noisy neighbours and perfect yards”; and the commune, “too much love, and power trips”.   

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t in anyway a downbeat songbook; the music’s just far too…well, jangly and driven for that. No flashiness, overindulgences, every song’s a tight winner, whether that’s the edgy power pop 80s throwback ‘Hidden Hands’ or the Soft Boys, if they’d been signed to Stiff Records, new wave crossover ‘Turn It Around’.

This whole album has a real nice feel, with pull-ins at Weezer, Television and grunge music’s lay-bys. Nothing new, just great indie, new wave (a little sneer of punk) music at its best, Surrounded has really grown on me. A great cathartic soundtrack to adventures on the freeway.

Timo Lassy  ‘Trio’
(We Jazz Records)  27th August 2021

A new combo and a new sound, the celebrated Finnish tenor saxophonist and bandleader Timo Lassy’s latest album of We Jazz crossovers is perhaps the Helsinki label’s most surprising release yet.

Cinematic, luxurious, Timo’s new “trio” are augmented, made more sweeping and grand, by the introduction of both synthesized effects and lush filmic strings – performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra and arranged by fellow Finn, Marzi Nyman. It’s almost as if David Arnold thumbed through the Savoy Jazz label’s back catalogue and various Italian and French movie soundtracks from the 60s and 70s: some exotica too! For the sound is both familiar, and as I already said, cinematic, yet somehow transformed enough to throw up the odd surprise and reverberation of the avant-garde and artsy jazz performativity.

Flanked either side by We Jazz and Finnish scene stalwarts, Ville Herrala on double-bass and Jaska Lukkarinen on drums, the expanded trio both playfully and more longingly move through the scenes of an imaginative romance it seems. Straight away they evoke that Savoy swing and a bit of sophisticated European vogue celluloid as they symphonically, in a rhapsody of swooning serenade, transport us to Monte Carlo (perhaps even Rio) on the sweeping ‘Foreign Routes’. Timo follows the tender contours and toots away on the equally romantic, tiptoed beauty ‘Better Together’.

Hearts skip and are harassed on the more jumping and dashing couplet of ‘Pumping C’ and ‘Orlo’. Timo goes through the register with dub-like effected echoes on his dabbing and busy saxophone riffs as Lukkarinen provides rattles of cymbal and little drilled snare rolls on the first of these two ‘groovers’.  The latter goes for a trip-hop like feel of shuffled breaks, funky and soulful tenor squeals.

Rain-on-the-windowpane moments of solemn gazing occur on the moody double-bass quivering, snuggled forlorn sax reflection ‘Sonitu’, and on the swirled wind blowing through the spiritual jazz cannon’s chimed and trinket percussion, elegant serenade ‘Sunday 20’.

For excursions further afield, the trio take us on an exotic journey to more fiery climes on the gong struck announced ‘Subtropical’ – imagine Jef Gilson and Les Baxter sound-tracking some mating ritual in the sort of hip but down-at-heel tropical nightspot, draped with fishing nets; where the clientele are of course wearing the Breton stripes, dancing away to Candido’s banging away on the congas.

A surprising route to take, Timo and his compatriots’ return to the classics on an album of both accentuated and dynamic jazz swing; boosted by the most beautiful of strings accompaniments. 

Various  ‘Cameroon Garage Funk’
(Analog Africa)  3rd September 2021

Blistering hot, howled ravers from an undiscovered treasure trove of 60s and 70s Cameroon Afro-garage, Afro-funk and Afro-psych records, Analog Africa have dug deep once more to bring us yet another essential compilation of lost or forgotten nuggets.

This bustling tropical survey tells the story of the country’s capital nightspots and the groups that frequented them, on what sounds like an unbelievably impressive live scene. But away from the sweltering heat of those busy dance floors, Cameroon lacked most of the facilities needed to record and promote it. Instead, it was left to covertly recording under the radar of an Adventist church, on the down low in between services and the ire of the priests. For a price, bands could use the church’s rudimental but sound recording equipment and incognito engineer, Monsieur Awono. Whoever had the readies could also then buy the master reel. But then what?  

Without a proper distribution network and few label opportunities, groups had to rely on the French label Sonafric. As it happened this imprint was very forgiving, open to anything it seems, and in a rare example of altruism releasing records on merit alone. The results of this generous spirit can be heard on, what is, a quite eclectic spread of genres and themes: ‘garage funk’ being a good springboard for a selection that reaches beyond its title grabber.

Low tech in many ways, yet the music on offer, leaps out of the speakers: the louder the better. For example, Jean-Pierre Djeukam’s squealing organ introduction opener, ‘Africa Iyo’, is a twitching Africa Screams like stonker that fully encompasses the “garage funk” tag.  But whilst this is a James Brown in league with The Gators style stormer, the next track, ‘Sie Tcheu’, takes some imbued guidance from Curtis Mayfield. Joseph Kamga, guitar virtuoso of the L’Orchestre Super Rock’ a Fiesta pedigree, lets loose on that 1974 “jerk tune”; sung, it should be noted, in the country’s largest ethnic language of Bamiléké.

It should also be noted at this point that Cameroon was under both French and British rule until 1961. They gained independence firstly from the French, in one half of the country, the year before, and then from Britain the following year. This brought in a renewed thrust and vigor for Cameroon traditions and its pre-colonial history, which filtered through to the music. Groups like the impressive Los Camaroes (the house band at the edgy Mango bar) incorporated a local version of the Rhumba, Méringue (the style that would blaze through the Latin world but stared in Africa), and the local Bikutsi style (the literal translation of which is “beat the earth”). They appear twice on the compilation, but it’s their tropical hammock swayed ‘Ma Wde Wa’ that favours this sauntered, often local, array of rhythms best. In comparison ‘Esele Malema Moam’ moves to an elliptical rhythm, more in keeping with New Orleans funk.

Transported across the Atlantic, seasoned and well-travelled talent Charles Lembe evokes Afro-Cuban gaucho vibes on ‘Qwero Wapatcha’. An interesting fella, moving at the age of sixteen to Europe, Lembe signed his first record deal with Vogue records in 1959, going on to write French film scores, open the rather poorly chosen named La Plantation club in Paris, and release his own The Voice Of Africa LP – Myriam Makebla and Henry Belafonte no less, asked permission to reinterpret his ‘Mota Benoma’ tune too.

The rest of the compilation seems to owe, at least some, debt to Fela Kuti. The architect of Afrobeat can certainly be felt on Tsanga Dieudonne’s ‘Les Souffrances’; written incidentally by Johnny Black, who’s owb Ewondo dialect advisory themed, Otis grabs James Brown styled, groover ‘Mayi Bo Ya?’ is a highlight. Willie Songue and his ‘Les Showmen’ sound like they may have even influenced late 70s Can with the whacker wah-wah flange peddled, live sounding, relaxed funk track ‘Moni Ngan’.

Cameroon garage funk is a riot; an encapsulation of a musically rich eco-system that managed to break on through despite all the setbacks and the lack of facilities. This compilation is the story of a conjuncture of Western and Cameroon styles; with the emphasis on corrupting those cross-Atlantic radio influences into something distinctly African. It’s another great introduction.

Various  ‘The Land Of Echo: Experimentations And Visions Of The Ancestral In Peru (1975-1989)’  (Buh Records)  27th August 2021

Photo Credit: Tony D’Urso

The second compilation this month to receive my seal of approval, Buh Records points me in the direction of the experimental fusions of mid 70s and 80s Peru. Surveying a conjuncture of brave new sounds and the country’s traditions, this pretty self-explanatory entitled compilation unveils both unreleased and released obscure explorations from a clutch of mavericks and forgotten pioneers who pushed the South American sonic envelope.

Mainly due to the political turbulence and a lack of studios, distribution and the like, most of the artists on this collection either self released recordings from their rudimental home studio set-ups, or, found opportunity to test the perimeters in the very few official facilities that existed: with labels such as Corva, and in studios such as Alliance Fançaise. 

Due to the ruling regime of this period’s emphasis on promoting Peru’s culture and traditions, and because of intense economic migration to the cities (in particular the capital, Lima), there was a greater exposure to the sounds of the country’s mountains and rainforest topography; many of which ended up being transformed by the lineup on this inaugural compilation.

Artists, composers working in the fields of rock, jazz, the contemporary classical and avant-garde began to merge and manipulate those localised customs and sounds into a new South American hybrid. The results of which can be heard on Omar Aramayo’s wind pipe Andean mountain peregrination ‘Nocturno 1’. From the lofty heights of a mountain’s crust, Omar it seems tracks the airy flight of an eagle, whilst evoking an atmospheric mirage of a train’s reverberated chuffed steam and the dreamy contouring of its magical journey. In contrast to that ambient minor symphony, Corina Barta swoons, exults, sings strange arias over both messenger and detuned drums on the mesmerising new age ‘Jungle’.

In the mid 70s Ave Acústica produced the sort of tape manipulations you might hear both Can and Faust playing around with it. A previously unreleased sound collage, produced on magnetic tape, announces each hissy segment of inner piano workings, radio dial fuckery and atmospheric downpours with a repeated Peruvian guitar motif on the avant-garde suite ‘Liegue a Lima al Atardecar’. Another unreleased track, ‘Indio de la Ciudad’ by Miguel Flores, leans towards Cage with an almost avant-garde experiment of classical heralded layered trumpets. 

The most obvious sounds of the futurism however, can be heard on Luis David Aguilar’s mid 80s Casio CZ10000 synthesizer heavy ‘La Tarkeada’. Touches of Sakamoto and Eno permeate this space-y bubbled wah-wah rayed and arpeggiator dotted neo-classical transformation of an Andean ancestral melody.

Echoes of Tangerine Dream, Oscar Peterson, Anthony Braxton, Cluster and the Fluxus arm of music can be heard in tandem with Peru’s most synonymous panpipes sound, but also disturbances of the local bird life (lots of flight and wing flapping going on) and spiritual inspired ritual. What all these experimental composers capture is an essence of a revitalised Peruvian culture, whilst dreaming about a more inclusive future.

Variát  ‘I Can See Everything From Here’
(Prostir)  10th September 2021

Ukrainian multimedia artist and co-label launcher Dmyto Fedorenko makes an abrasive, thickset and caustic noisy statement of mystery and forebode on his latest dissonant album.

Under the Variát alias the static, fizzled and pulverized pulsating sonic sculptor uses a busted and transmogrified apparatus of blown amps, hammer thumped toms, cymbals that have been drilled to make unpredictable resonating distortions, and countless found objects to conjure up the most heavy and deep of savage and alien discomfort.

One artist’s reaction to the times we now live in, launched from Fedorenko’s own Prostir imprint that he set-up with fellow electronic music experimentalist Kateryna Zavoloka, the album’s eight fizzing contortions burble, squeal, scream and drone lethargically with unknown ritualistic invocation.

The accompanying PR notes tell me that this project (in part) was conceived last year as a ‘provocative outlet’ for transgression, reinvention and liberation. This all becomes a bestial, doomed industrial freedom when channeled through a fried crunched distortion. Unknown propelled craft hover as the stark brushes and scrapes of an electric guitar are magnified to sound like an unholy alliance of Sunn O))) and The Telescopes. Reversed sharpened blades, searing drones, metal machine music concrete, vaporised static, the sound of a robbed manic knocking on the gates of Hades and various bone and gristle menace converge as leviathans, secret ceremony and regurgitations emerge from the discordant mass.

Itchy-O, Faust and Emptyset bring in augurs and break the limits in a suffused display of heavy metal primitivism, as Variát craves out meaning, description and evocations from a corrosive block of fucked-up serpent like dark materials. It’s probably, exactly, the right sound we need at the moment. 

Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Balgay Hill: Morning In Magnolia’
(Clay Pipe Music)  20th August 2021

Seeking a sanctuary away from the collective anxieties and uncertainties of the Covid-19 age, the Dundee composer Andrew Wasylyk found that it’s a beautiful world once you disconnect from the hyperbole and relentless crisis negativity fed to us minute-by-minute through the gogglebox and Goggle hub.

His safe haven, the city’s Victorian period Balgay Park, proved both a solace and sonic inspiration for this latest album of evocative captured-in-the-moment peregrinations and hymns to natures eternal optimistic dawn rise.

A sort of ambient waft along the park trail, with fragrant and almost cosmic reflective stops at the astronomical observatory (the first and only public built one in the UK) sitting beside the flowery and fauna at the adjourning cemetery and from atop of the panoramic view that reaches out across the Firth of Tay’s inner estuary.

Eased in with both the glazed light of a Dundee Spring and the suffused swaddled and warm dreamy trumpet and flugelhorn of fellow Taysider Rachael Simpson, Wasylyk once more pays an ambient – with hazy pastoral touches of the psychedelic and even esoteric – homage to his home city’s psychogeography. For there is a marking, musically, of not just the passing of time but an acknowledgment also to those who’ve lived and followed a similar lifetime in the one-time jute manufacturing capital. There’s even a track title, ‘Smiling School For Calvinists’, that references Bill Duncan’s short stories collection of imagined and all too real characters eking out a living or existence in a slightly surreal vision of Dundee – alternating between the insular fishing community of Broughty Ferry and the imposing tower blocks of the nearby city.

The soundtrack to this world layers dappled gauzes of the Boards Of Canada and epic45 with the ambience of Eno and Forest Robots; the accentuated and caressed bendy guitar playing of Junkboy and Federico Balducci with just a hint of 70s children’s TV ghost stories.

The abstract essence of a place and mood are made no less concrete or real by this lovely, often mirage-like soundtrack. Sounds, instrumentation plays like the light source material that inspired it, whether it’s the undulating synthesized bobbled notes or the winding, meandering melodies of piano. Grayscale-like fades come alive with the occasional breakout of padded and pattered drums and, on the sweet colliery trumpeted and gilded piano rich, already mentioned, book title, a pre-set bossa groove.

Casting a timeless spell, worries seem to evaporate as Wasylyk gently immerses the listener into another world: the bustle, movement of a city is still there, but a most scenic film of escape keeps it all at bay behind cushioning fauna. Balgay Hill is another wonderful, peaceable yet evocative album from the Dundee maestro.

Steve Hadfield  ‘See The World Anew Vol.1’
(See Blue Audio)  27th August 2021

It’s been a miserable, anxious and unsecure eighteen months for all of us; the political and generational divisions, already torrid enough before the advent of Covid-19, now like chasms. Yet for many it’s also been a time of catharsis, an opportunity to concentrate on what matters the most. Leeds electronic music artist Steve Hadfield is one such soul, sharing the collective experiences of lockdown, but also impacted by a number of personal life changes unrelated to the miasma of the pandemic. Inspired by his young daughter to look at the world, universe with fresh wide-eyed wonder and new perspective, Hadfield is spurred on to create a new series of ambient suites dedicated to stargazing and atmospheric discovery.

Following a prolific release schedule in 2021, Hadfield’s ‘most ambient’ statement has been saved for the blossoming ambient and beyond label See Blue Audio. And so volume one of this universal wonderment feels like the multiple stages of an ascendance into space; there’s even a mirage melting, serene spherical gliding suite named ‘Ascension’ for heaven’s sake!

Reacquainting with the night sky Hadfield offers up moonbeam corridors of light, reversed cosmic white noise, detuned Tibetan like ceremonial percussion, and a veiled untethered waltz in the great expanse. The composer takes off aboard some sort of propelled craft through an arching buzzed ‘Mesosphere’ towards an orbital avant-garde.

Volume One is a sensitive, often mysterious, but always interestingly serene start to a period of renewed reflection and discovery.

Simon McCorry  ‘Flow’
(See Blue Audio)  10th September 2021

The highly prolific “cellist sound-sculptor of ambiguous environments” and composer Simon McCorry has appeared numerous times this year on the blog. Just last month I featured his Critical; Mass collaboration with the Washington D.C. duo of Requiem (of which a second volume is set to be released next month), and before that, his Nature In Nature EP for the burgeoning ambient and beyond label See Blue Audio. For that very same label (and the second See Blue release to be featured in this month’s roundup) imprint McCorry plucks inspiration from out of the air and the psychogeography of the Lake District, the Outer Hebrides’ Isle Of Harris, and the Orkney Islands on the almost uninterrupted Flow suites showcase. 

Treading in ancient times, the unknown mysticisms and mysterious essences we’ve attached to our atavistic ancestors in those locations is picked up by McCorry’s sonic antenna and channeled into five flowing sequences of ambient and kosmische style immersions. The source of which stems from one long improvisation; created using Eurorack modules passed through to cassette tape and further processed to acquire a degraded feel, like something that’s been left lain dormant and undiscovered under the dirt: a kind of mood board time capsule if you will.

Imbued by those surroundings, and the various stone circles that stand in some of them, McCorry ushers in the autumnal light and low sun rises as seasonal rituals indicate the last moments of the summer.  Horizon gazing sun worship, supernatural elements, vibrating force fields, slowly bowed ascending and descending tubular elevations, and searing drones seem the order of the day as the adroit composer manages to produce a natural, organic vision of synthesized machine made mood music. The roots of which start in the landscape and travel up towards the sci-fi.

Deep yet translucent, McCorry’s stream of conscious ambience has both weight and a mirage-like quality. Its yet another angle, a side to his craft; a most appealing, entranced and mystical work of airy suspense and investigation. 

Sone Institute  ‘After The Glitter Before The Decay’
(Mystery Bridge Records)  6th September 2021

Not quite left behind, nor entirely bound to the next stage of decay, Roman Bezdyk emerges from the ruins of one glittery age to contour, reverberate and evoke both mysterious and ominous atmospheres on his new Sone Institute album.

Crouched in post-industrial wastelands, gazing at the stars, the UK-based electronic musician, guitarist and producer conveys both dreams and nightmarish environments of unknown specters, shapes and broadcasts on what amounts to a kosmische, ambient and experimental guitar styled soundtrack to a resigned future shock.

You could say it follows on from Bezdyk’s previous New Vermin Replace Old EP from April. There’s even a second ‘Studded By Stars’ chapter; although it’s a more industrial, post-rock like journey into the alien as opposed to the first version’s stratospheric ambient glide.

Against obstructed and ghostly transmissions, cosmic sonic hymnal synthesized voices, beams of light, digital code calculations and veiled gray environments Bezdyk adds serial and resonated guitar gestures, brushes. With much delay, sometimes flange, and always plenty of lunar echo, his guitar wrangling, air hanging notes and gentle sweeps recall elements of Günter Schickert, Manuel Göttsching and an even more strung out version of Ry Coder. On the apparitional entitled ‘Insect House’ that same guitar sound apes the craning and scuttled movements of those said creepy-crawlies, whilst also evoking a sweltered heat and a strange bowing rustic saw. 

Whilst new Rome crumbles and burns, Bezdyk imagines broody spy thrillers piano music played by Cage (‘Echo Zulu India’) and Bernard Szajner like envisioned sci-fi. Wherever he’s taking us it sounds as alien as it does foreboding; a crumbling visage of the world headed for the shitter. 

Blue Mysteries  ‘Dislocated’
(Hive Mind Records)  10th September 2021

I can sympathize greatly with Marc Teare, the humanoid behind the Dislocated Blue Mysteries alias and head honcho at the global sounds (and beyond) label Hive Mind. Suffering greatly from bastard cluster headaches myself in the past, I know exactly what he’s going through. As a distraction from this heavy leaden fog and intense painful experience, Teare assimilates with a number of A.I. sonic software applications on his new project.

Not so much removing himself from the process, as that title may suggest, but more in keeping with how the curse of those headaches can not only course chronic pain but ‘dislocate’ a person from everything around them. Teare actually ties and propounds this same damaging feeling in with the dislocation so many of us have felt during the COVID pandemic.

Intuitive as he might be, he’s left much of the work to the transmogrified re-programming of Khyam Allami & Counterpoint’s Apotome and, the electronic artist, Holly Herndon’s ‘digital twin’ Holly+. The first is a free browser-based generative music system that enables users to explore transcultural tunings, the second, a custom vocal and instrumental interface in which users can upload polyphonic audio to a website and receive it back, sung in Herndon’s voice. Of course it all depends on whatever source material you feed it as to how effective the results.  In this case, Teare has initiated very odd, hallucinogenic and acid lunar dream of library music sci-fi and inner mind-bending. 

Like a transformed twist of Asmus Tietchens, Stereolab and Klaus Weiss, dislocated from their own times, this chiming, twinkled and chemistry set bubbled and burbling soundtrack floats freely inside a psychedelic lava lamp. Droplets, sometimes arpeggiator flows of bobbing chimes make vague connections to the Far East, Thailand, even Polynesia. On the gulp filtered slow beat primordial soup ‘Humming, Pre-Dawn’ there’s a touch of electronic bamboo music; removed to sound like detuned chopsticks. Something approaching aria-like voices (of a sort) appear like whelping alien creatures and higher squawking space mice on ‘Shadows’. In a manner Blue Mysteries floats around a strange retro-library futurism of droning crafts, crystallised notes (some of which pierce, others, linger with sonorous effects), blades of bass-y synth and liquid movements. Concentrating the mind like nothing else can, Teare escapes the numbing pain to an imaginary sonic flotsam; handing over at least some of his escape route to A.I., and so in the process creating something lucidly weird and mirage-like. These cluster headaches fortunately pass, returning either sporadically or years later. Though this is an interesting sonic album, let’s hope for Teare’s sake those headaches never return. 

ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

Forest Robots ‘Horst & Graben’
(Elm Records) 1st September 2021

Subscribing to the ambient version of the National Geographic (though I might christen this particular style as ‘Notional Geographic’), arduous cross-country and mountain trekker Fran Dominguez once more sonically contours the landscape and the pondered philosophical quandaries that it evokes.

Under the Forest Robots alias, nature’s son has found a peaceable, if at times dramatic, escape from the divisive stresses of the last four years by taking to the great American outdoors; finding not only solace but various Taoist posed metaphors of a simpler, ideal life spent in unison with nature.

The music might be slow, purposeful, but Dominguez isn’t one to rest on his laurels having released a number of top quality ambient map readings during the pandemic. The geological entitled Horst & Graben (in case you need to know, or if sitting your geography tests, ‘Horst’ is a raised block of the Earth’s crust that has lifted or has remained stationary whilst land either side has subsided, and ‘Graben’ is a depressed block of a planet or moon’s crust bordered by parallel faults) is his second minor opus this year; following on from the March released Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning.

Still imbued by a litany of ambient and neo-classical forbearers, the new traverse is perhaps Dominguez’s most out and out kosmische sounding album yet. Navigating fauna, chasms, peaks and allegorical waters the soundtrack pays homage to Cluster, Harmonia and solo Roedelius, and Eno and Bowie’s ‘Moss Garden’ in the ‘Neuköln’ neighborhood. To these ears there’s also a touch of Andrew Heath’s (who coincidently collaborated with Roedelius) lower case form of sparse and serial piano playing.

But this particular touching, often moving album is also imbued by the award-winning examinations of the acclaimed biologist and author David George Haskell; most notably his 2017 book, The Songs Of Trees, which looks at our innate connection with tree. Dominguez uses the author’s stories as a diving board for his own existentialist contemplations, reflections and spiritual peace of mind, but also prompts a lot of hard thinking on the hot topics of the last few years too: can we, for example, reconcile our differences, ideologies and work together on solving climate change?

Every philosophically poetic entitled track finds a balance between glades of natural light, organic paced reveals and more cosmic, elevating spells: the most stunning kosmische blaze of them all is left until the end, on the Harmonia redolent mouthful, ‘In The Aftermath Of Rain No Grain Of Sand Remains Unstirred’. It’s a subtle affair with enervated moments of a polygon windows Richard James, but mostly the Forst secluded stirrings of the whole Cluster and Harmonia experiment (especially that triumvirate of Rothar, Roedelius and Moebius); all transformed through Dominguez liquid droplets, vapours, clean and beautifully descriptive filters. Here’s hoping those calm quandaries will rub off on the angry, riled masses, because we could sure do with a healing balm of musical inspiration right now.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


PLAYLIST REVUE/Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea




Join us for the most eclectic of musical journeys as the Monolith Cocktail compiles another monthly playlist of new releases and recent reissues we’ve featured on the site, and tracks we’ve not had time to write about but have been on our radar.

Expect to hear everything and anything; from Azerbaijan guitar heroes (very perceptive at the moment considering the geopolitical border shooting in the news), jazz peregrinations, lopsided psychedelic pop, stop-start funk, abstract deconstructions, Beach Boys imbued ebb and flow ruminating, sketches from a doyen of Krautrock, a cross pollination of 808 Maghreb and India, poignant personal ambient laments, plus a load of choice Hip-Hop cuts. 50 tracks in all. 


Those Tracks In Full Are:

Songhoy Blues ‘Barre’
Leron Thomas ‘Endicott’
Nubya Garcia ‘The Message Continues’
Dele Sosimi, Medlar ‘Gudu Gudu Kan’
Sidi Toure ‘Farra Woba’
Floodlights ‘Matter Of Time’
Lou Terry  ‘The View’
Lizzy Young ‘Obvious’
Sampa The Great, Junglepussy ‘Time’s Up (Remix)’
Marques Martin ‘Hailey’
Nicky William ‘Pathetic Fuck’
Gibberish ‘I Dreamed U’
La China de La Gasolina ‘El Camino’
The Green Child ‘Fashion Light’
Ludwig Dreistern  ‘New Oddity’
Namir Blade ‘Stay’
This Is The Kit ‘Coming To Get You Nowhere’
Esbe ‘My Love Knows No Bounds’
Stella Sommer ‘The Eyes Of The Summer’
Brona McVittie ft. Isan & Myles Cochran ‘Falling For Icarus’
Badge Epoque Ensemble ft. U.S. Girls & Dorothea Pass ‘Sing A Silent Gospel’
Liraz ‘Injah’
Junkboy ‘Belo Horizonte’
Rustem Quilyev ‘Ay Dili Dili’
Phew ‘All That Vertigo’
Krononaut ‘Leaving Alhambra’
The Strange Neighbour ‘Stuntman’
dedw8, Conway The Machine, 0079 ‘Clean The Whole Room Out’
Syrup, Twit One, Turt, C.Tappin, Summers Sons ‘Burn Out’
Verb T, Illinformed ‘New Paths’
Good Doom ‘Zig Zag’
Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘Dan I Am’
Staraya Derevnya ‘Hogweed Is Done With Buckwheat’
Sheltered Workshop Singers ‘My Life’
Violent Vickie ‘Serotonin’
Julia Meijer ft. Fyfe Dangerfield ‘The Place Where You Are’
Mike Gale ‘Pastel Coloured Warm’
Michael Rother ‘Bitter Tang’
Extradition Order ‘Let’s Touch Again’
Schlammpeitziger ‘Huftgoldpolka’
Ammar 808 ft. Kali Dass ‘Ey Paavi’
Edrix Puzzle ‘Jonny Buck Buck’
SOMA, Shumba Maasai, Hermes ‘Rudeboi’
Babylon Dead ‘Nineteen84’
The Jux, Turkish Dcypha, Wavy Boy Smith ‘Lost In Powers’
Verbz, Mr. Slipz ‘2202 Fm’
Tune-Yards ‘Nowhere, Man’
Chiminyo ‘I Am Panda’
Sebastian Reynolds ‘Heartbeat’
Tamar Collocutor, Tenesha The Wordsmith, Rebecca Vasmant ‘Yemaya (Vasmant Mixmaster)’



Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


Review
Words: Dominic Valvona




Rupert Lally ‘Marine Life’
(Glass Reservoir) Album/21st September 2020


From an experimental gently challenging label that has only just resurfaced after a long hiatus – following the release of Darren Hayman’s out-of-the-box exploration, Wembley Eiffel Tower -, Glass Reservoir is thankfully back with a roster of new releases in 2020. They’ve picked a right old apocalyptic time to make that return mind, but they have and I for one am happy with that.

GR is an imprint with a remit. That is, to explore the boundaries between the electronic and acoustic. Each release is an invitation to the artist; each release confined to digital download and a limited copy run of hand printed CDs.

The first of a trio of announced releases, Rupert Lally adds to his previous recent subtle Strange Systems and Lost To The Past suites with another evocative ambient soundtrack, Marine Life. An ocean purview, Lally’s aquatic delving compositions provide an out-of-body (of water) experience both beneath and above an unspecified, amorphous sea.

Less Jacques Cousteau and more a blend of Kosmische glide, Vangelis and Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle, the marine life in this case is mysteriously majestic, supernatural and even alien. The album’s most surprising departure from the signature shimmery efflux, radiant and floating serenity is the almost dreamy, hallucinogenic ‘The Diving Bell’. Frazzled, fizzing splashes cast that bell into the depths of Atlantis on a submerged Bladerunner-esque, ghostly windswept score.

Tranquility beckons though on the album’s opening diaphanous becalmed tide stunner ‘Deceptively Calm’. Lally sends the listener sailing across topographic oceans, or diving into the enormity of nature across squarewaves, subtle melodious synth wanes, vapours and rotor-like undulations. It’s an album of synthesized nature, of refracted light play and the aural senses. Lally creates a great scenic soundtrack to re-launch a quality, unassuming, label.






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




Giacomelli ‘The Best Of Both Possible Worlds, Part II’ taken from the upcoming album suite Cosmic Order released by Somewherecold Records, 9th October 2020



Beamed across the Atlantic by the North American hub Somewherecold Records, we have a most grand spanning opus from Silicon Valley composer Steve Giacomelli, who releases his triple CD expansive series of cosmic ordered suites for the experimental ambient and electronic label next month.

His fourth such album of ambient minimalism for the label, this celestial and evolutionary mined impressive ARP Odyssey synth birthed album of thirty-six ascendants, refractions, pulses and gravitas inspiring space music uses a number of techniques to accomplish an overall sound of forgotten Sky Record maestros (think Asmus Tietchens, Wolfgang Riechmann), Tangerine Dream, early Cluster, Vangelis, Tomat and solo Roedelius. This synthesized vision – that can sometimes err towards the ominous forebode and mystery of Kubrick – synthesis of the abstract, deep space, the inner mind, nature and the heavenly is accomplished with an apparently limited pallet and the use of counterpoint sequences, the generative and a method, favoured by Frank Zappa, called “xenochrony” – that is the extracting of a solo or other part from its original context and placing it into a completely different song/composition. These techniques make for a most impressive traverse of the astral planes, new age transcendence, theorems, gases and topographic ebbs and flows.

From that three-hour epic, the Monolith Cocktail is premièring the geometric patterned and busy algorithm Kosmische junction of nature and technology, ‘The Best Of Both Possible Worlds II’. Personally I’m hearing a cross serenity and pulse of Kraftwerk, Eno and Cage, but see what you think as we share this sweeping analogue soundtrack.

 

The 3XCD and digital download Cosmic Oder album is released by Somewherecold Records on the 9th October 2020






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

PLAYLIST REVUE/Dominic Valvona/Matt Oliver/Brain ‘Bordello’ Shea





Join us once more for the most eclectic of musical journeys as the Monolith Cocktail compiles another monthly playlist of new release and recent reissues we’ve featured on the site, and tracks we’ve not had time to write about but have been on the radar.

The August edition kicks off with a blistering sunny-disposition Ron Gallo,space rock barrage returning Secret Machines and riotous Young Knives. Later on we’ve a host of jazz smarts from Stanley J. Zappa & Simo Laihonen, Charles Tolliver and Donny McCaslin.

As diverse as ever though, there’s a host of genres represented, including ‘Sufi Dub’ (Ashraf Sharif Khan & Viktor Marek) ‘after geography’ ambience (Forest Robots), ‘Eastern European femme fatal punk’ (Shishi) and ‘Euclid inspired polygon techno’ (Kumo).

Matt Oliver furnishes as ever with a host of choice hip-hop tracks from Fliptrix, Helsinki Booze Mercanhts, Loki Dope and Verb T.

There’s also a second despondent melodious grunge-y new wave rocker from the burgeoning talent that is Jacqueline Tucci. Something for everyone, more or less.





TRACKS 

Ron Gallo  ‘HIDE (MYSELF BEHIND YOU)’
Secret Machines  ‘Everything’s Under’
Young Knives  ‘Swarm’
Death By Unga Bunga  ‘Trouble’
Shishi  ‘OK Thx Bye’
Jacqueline Tucci  ‘Sweeter Things’
Elian Gray  ‘High Art’
Loki Dope  ‘Have You Any Wool?’
Stanley J. Zappa & Simo Laihonen  ‘E38 E 14th, City Of Piss, USA’
Charles Tolliver  ‘Copasetic’
Nosaj Thing  ‘For The Light’
Donny McCaslin  ‘Reckoning’
VRITRA  ‘CLOSER TO GOD’
Remulak & Type.Raw  ‘Mad Skillz’
Vex Ruffin  ‘Hinde Naman’
Mazi & Otarel  ‘Staiy’
Fliptrix  ‘Holy Kush’
Sausage Spine & Relentless Exquisite  ‘Skin Diamond’
Verb T & Illinformed  ‘Rotten Luck’
Pitch 92 & Lord Apex  ‘Suttin’ In The Trunk’
Helsinki Booze Merchants  ‘Tokyo Drift’
Fliptrix  ‘Powerizm’
Diassembler  ‘A Wave From A Shore’
Forest Robots  ‘Over The Drainage Divide’
Mark Cale, Ines Loubet and Joseph Costi  ‘Bodies Of Water’
Lucia Cadotsch, Otis Sandsjo, Petter Eldh  ‘Azure’
Paradise Cinema  ‘Possible Futures’
Only Now  ‘Merciless Destiny’
J. Zunz  ‘Four Women And Darkness’
Alan Wakeman, Gordon Beck  ‘Chaturanga’
BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON  ‘Numb’
Brian Bordello  ‘Rock n Roll Is Dead’
The Hannah Barberas  ‘W.Y.E.’
AUA  ‘I Don’t Want It Darker’
Ashraf Sharif Khan & Viktor Marek  ‘Drive Me On The Floor’
Harmonious Thelonious  ‘Hohlenmenschemuziek’
Kumo  ‘South African Euclid’
Cabaret Voltaire  ‘Vasto’
Pons  ‘Subliminal Messages’
Freak Heat Waves  ‘Busted’
Constant Bop  ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’
Josephine Foster  ‘Freemason Drag’
John Howard  ‘Injuries Sustained In Surviving’


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

 

Album Reviews Roundup/Dominic Valvona






In-between lockdowns the only good news is that at least this month and next is shaping up to be the busiest months in 2020 so far, with a significant rise in the number of releases. And so, just scratching the surface, I’ve picked out just a smattering of interesting and brilliant albums from the thousands that the Monolith Cocktail receives each month.

German contemporary electronic music pioneer Stefan Schwander under the Harmonious Thelonious title, creates a new sophisticated polygenesis dance album of itchy scratching no wave, the tribal and industrial for the Hamburg label Bureau B; a survey of various contemporary experimental artists come together for charity to interpret the amorphous Plague Score graphic score of Nick Gill; Japanese underground luminary Phew releases a sort of mixed compilation of new material and unreleased sessions from her 2017 album’s Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore for the Disciples imprint. Lurking in the jazz-fusion subterranean, a new project from classically leaning producer and guitarist Leo Abraham and jazz drummer Martin France and their ensemble of collaborators, is the latest release on Glitterbeat’s experimental instrumental imprint tak:til. Krononaut converges the avant-garde with post-rock, post-punk and krautrock. Sometime Roedelius foil Andrew Heath releases yet another understated ambient sound collage of the real and imaginary for the Disco Gecko label; the patient escapist ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’. The Israeli-Russian collective Staraya Derevnya release a treble album haul, though I’m concentrating on the marvellous culmination of improvised performances pieces and additional material avant-garde krautrock folk Inwards Opened The Floor.

Handling the pandemic and escalating divisive free fall with spite, energy and violence, there’s the new Map 71 album, Turn Back Metropolis, and a barricade breaching, loud and primal return for the Young Knives with their first full-on album in nearly seven years, Barbarians.


Young Knives ‘Barbarians’
(Gadzook) Album/4th September 2020


Hurtling back from a four-year hiatus with a barrage, the brothers Dartnall unleash an angry firestorm of a dystopian album; the first fully realised collision since 2013’s Sick Octave.

The now not so Young Knives have been busy sharpening their sonic disconsolations in all that time, ready to pounce with an attack on the senses; reappearing at a most depressingly divisive time. Not that there hasn’t been more than enough material to keep the Knives awake at night, but they’ve been inspired to light the fuse by reading up on the apocalyptic philosopher/writer John Gray’s resigned tract on the illusions (as he sees it) of self-determination, Straw Dogs, and the controversial professional man-hater Valerie Solanas and her patriarchal death-knell, the S.C.U.M. Manifesto (an abbreviation of the Society For Cutting Up Men). In what’s said to be their most “cathartic” and “noisy” release yet, the self-confessed nihilists and miserablists have channeled the Clockwork Orange borstal of primal savage human nature, as explored in Gray’s polarizing theorem, and Solanas’ (what some critics and commentators consider a clever parody, even satire of “the performance of patriarchal social order it refuses”; though attempting to murder Andy Warhol, and by association the American critic Maria Amaya, puts a damper on that suggestion) utopian pipe-dream to knock seven bells out of the indie-dance and post-post-punk blueprints.

Essentially, as the title makes clear, despite all our graces, technologic advances and awareness, humans have never lost their barbaric cruelty. Is this just part of our nature and makeup? And if so, how do we live with it? It’s a quandary that hasn’t diminished over time, and a fate amplified in the pressing destructive times of 2020; a cold war of ideals, divisive politics kindled by a raging pandemic. And so, you can expect an explosive despondency from the Knives as they tear up and skulk through the debris.





It starts by plowing into a sustained menacing buzzy and harassed krautrock like grooving thrust merger of Techno, Siouxsie’s Banshees and PiL (Henry Dartnall will use will Lydon’s signature cocky sneer and haranguing rage throughout this Molotov hurling album), and continues to caustically cut-up a barreling and marching rant of These New Puritans, Scary Monsters and Outside era Bowie, NIN, the Chemical Brothers, Death From Above 1979 and The Slits. There’s even, I might suggest, a hint of supernatural Alex Harvey, albeit jazzed-up with rollicking Bloc Party drums, on the creeping witchery ‘Jenny Haniver’. I’m not surprised it has a daemonic esoteric feel, as the title refers to the ghastly unnatural looking mummified carcasses of rays and skates that have been dried-out and modified to resemble fanciful creatures like dragons and demons.

Brutality is everywhere, with samples of audio from a bare-knuckle brawl on the tortuous fist-clenched whirlwind title-track, and a squall of harsh and heavy breakbeats and alarms constantly rattle the cerebral. Yet breaking the barbarous grind and bounce are moments of brief relief: the venerable and prayerful female chorus on the ‘Holy Name 68’’ vignette (a distorted calm from the past), and the milder relief of a vague brass band finale serenade on the previously Blurt honking post-punk ‘Slashed What I Saw’ curtain call.

Henry shouts that the “scum will inherit the earth” and other such sloganism, knowing full well his rage will inevitably dissipate as the barricades come tumbling down once more. A future hell on repeat, the Knives at least have a good go at firing up the audience; it’s a noise and row that has been largely missing in the music world, and proves the perfect poisoned tonic for these end times. It’s good to have them back.






Phew ‘Vertigo KO’
(Disciples) Album/4th September 2020





In case you haven’t been introduced to the avant-garde voice iterations and various drone landscaping experiments of the Japanese artist known as Phew, then this new and unique compilation of her personal sonic statements and moods is both an eye-opener and a good place to start.

Phew’s entry into this field started with the instigation of the Osaka psychedelic-punk group Aunt Sally in 1978, which she fronted until their brief but influential burnout just a couple of years later. During the next decade Phew would work with an enviable cast of experimental doyens including Ryuchi Sakamoto, Alex Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten fame and DAF’s Christo Haar, and also making an album with the illustrious Can pairing of Holgar Czukay and Jaki Leibzeit and legendary producer Conny Plank. Fast-forwarding to the noughties and the underground pioneer has performed live and recorded with The Raincoats’ Ana Da Silva, Jim O’Rourke and Ikue Mori and Yoshimi of the OOIOO/Boredoms/Saicobab arc of ensembles. Quite the providence, it’s a back catalogue that can be heard suffused throughout the latest collection of specially recorded new material, unreleased works from Phew’s two most recent solo album sessions (2017’s Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore) and a, removed from its original disjointed source, cover version.

Framed by the artist herself as “An unconscious sound sketch…” and as “personal documentary music”, Vertigo KO is a special kind of compilation. Forward thinking, progressive rather than looking back, the tracks on this album can’t be dated or easily linked back to those previous works. It sounds in fact like a new work entirely, made in the moment, all at the same conjuncture of creativity and thought. The label Disciples has already put out a limited edition cassette, Vertical Jamming, of Phew’s “long form drone work”, but this collection seems untethered, themeless concept wise and musically. Well that’s not entirely true, Phew states that her last two albums from which some of the martial has been lifted is personal and not an attempt at a “worldview”: the overall undercurrent and hidden message being “what a terrible world we live in, but let’s survive”. Phew seems to convey this survival by counterbalancing ascendant crystal rays of nature and heavenly with mysticism, otherworldliness and ominous Sci-fi: The skying drones and refractions that build towards a cathedral in the clouds on the opening ‘The Very Ears Of Morning’ evoke the beauty and enormity of nature’s first light. Yet by the second track Phew has transmogrified the loose post-punk slumbering Raincoats distress ‘The Void’; transporting the bare bones to a neon-futuristic industrial setting, ala Bladerunner.

Some of the more truly “out there” avant-garde moods involve various vocal repetitions and multi layering. These voices, intonations and peculiar annunciations can be in the form of obscured incantations (as they are on the vaporous hive humming consciousness mystery ‘Let’s Dance, Let’s Go’), vowel stretching (on the dial twisting ‘All That Vertigo’) or monastic (on the mystical Buddhist/Shinto call to prayer vacuum ‘Hearts And Flowers’). Sometimes it’s used as a rhythm, at other times as a lingering trace of yearning from the “void”.

Phew’s amorphous sonic sensibilities exist both in the metallic gauze of space and in more concentrated earthly reverence. A pioneer of the form, the Japanese icon of the underground continues to produce some of her strongest work as a new decade beckons, birthed in a pandemic. The signatures, reference points and mode will be familiar to those already well acquainted with the Phew’s varied catalogue, yet Vertigo KO offers some sublime and inventive surprises to be an essential edition to the collection. Those unfamiliar would do well to experience this set of suites and then work backwards.




Krononaut ‘Krononaut’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 4th September 2020





Out on the peripherals of identifiable jazz-fusion the newly assembled Krononaut ensemble conjure up a mysterious extemporize performance on their debut vision for Glitterbeat’s highly experimental instrumental imprint tak:til.

Instigated, led by producer and guitarist Leo Abraham (who’s contextual guitar lines can be heard on Eno’s sublime Small Craft On A Milk Sea LP) and drummer Martin France (who’s played with, amongst others, Nils Petter Molvaer and Evan Parker) but methodology wise a democratized unit that embraces the atmospherical leanings and peregrinations of its extended lineup of collaborators, Krononaut was created out of a musical disciplinary challenge: To converge Leo’s classical sensibilities and learning with Martin’s jazz background. The results of which linger, spiral and prowl in an abstract subterranean space of hybrid jazz, Jon Hassell’s possible musics, krautrock, post-punk, post-rock and, at least in part, are informed, inspired by the unique rhythms found in the Madoh Shamanic funeral music of Tajikistan.

Recorded in London last year over two sessions, the inaugural featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (from Tom Waits to Laurie Anderson) on bass, the follow-up, the enigmatic saxophonist Matana Roberts, Swedish trumpeter Arve Henriksen and on bass duties too, Tim Harries, the Krononaut album reimagines a musique concrete Miles Davis, Sam Rivers and Grachen Moncur III skulking a masked, mournful to a point, ether that once in a while floats into the ethereal (in evidence on the diaphanous aria veneration ‘Vision Of The Cross’).

Navigating dark recesses in a spidery probing with the bass on the shadowy ‘Location 14’, and evoking their label mates Pulled By Magnets on the semi-industrial, cavernous and falling ‘Power Law’, this ensemble creep into post-punk; sounding like a transmogrified deconstructive PiL. Yet despite this the Krononaut’s are never so disjointed, dark or brash as to raise the volume above the discordant or even delicate; nothing runs away or untethers itself completely from the musicians’ grip.

Vague bursts of Guru Guru, drifting Eastern horns and filmic qualities drift in and out of serialism vaporuos industrial soundscapes and odd primal lagoons. Sporadic fits of propulsive drummed rhythms materialize from these non-liner recordings, but for the most part we’re strung out in the stresses and entanglements of composed, sophisticated avant-garde explorers: jazz and those classical leanings only really play one of many parts to this conjuncture of elements.

Ponderous, stalking, lolloping, spiritual, fluctuating – an exercise in relearning and discovery in fact – the Krononaut album of fourth world like experiments is free of limitations. It’s a project that escapes, even defies, categorization; another congruous fit with the ethos of the tak:til label.






Harmonious Thelonious ‘Plong’
(Bureau B) 28th August 2020





Fitting congruously within the Bureau B label family, Stefan Schwander’s inaugural album of sophisticated minimalist dance music for the Hamburg platform chimes with its roster of German experimental electronic pioneers; from Zuckerzeit candy era Cluster to the deconstructive Populäre Mechanik and the more contemporary Pyrolator.

More or less ten years into his Harmonious Thelonious alter ego, Schwander now offers a more “industrial sound” made from concrete objects vision of his American “minimalism” convergence with African rhythms and European melodies signatures. Inspired in part by the iconic Basle club of Totentanz, where the German electronic artist spent some of his misspent youth catching performances by the no wave dance act Liquid Liquid, the Gun Club, Jonathan Richman and a very young Aztec Camera, the Plong album channels some of the atmosphere and nostalgic vibes of those formative years. The club is immortalized on the final track; a sort of tribal beat with a barely audible hooted dance track that could be described as “intelligent” techno for the soul. In fact, the Liquid Liquid reference, or at least that vibrant post-new wave dance sound that they excelled at, can be heard permeating tracks like ‘Höhlenmenschenmuzik’; a multi-textural bass pronounced no wave dance of Carl Craig and Kriedler, the title of which translates as “caveman music” and evokes atavistic cave daubings leaping off the dank walls and vibrating, dancing like a host of Keith Harring characters bouncing down a NYC boardwalk.

Elsewhere amongst the deep Detroit techno and house music the tubular and knocking mettalics, tight delayed electronic sequencing and cleverly layered kinetics and mirages of a mysterious Arabia can be detected on the opening desert sands ‘Original Member Of A Wedding Band’. An obscured xylophone or marimba somehow captures an air of Africa on the lightly malleted and translucent itching vibrant ‘Geistertrio Booking’, and the staccato clumsy motioned ‘The Roller’ features a quasi-bobbing West African rhythm.

The tribal is subtly transformed into a futuristic suspense; 80s electro and no wave dance is twinned with lurking industrial electronica; bubbling concoctions float across mechanical refractions on a meticulously constructed deep dance soundtrack of multiple interesting rhythms. Plong, which could be a title Harmonia/Cluster may very well have used, fits perfectly with the Bureau B vibe, yet cuts a clean polygenesis electronic dance sound of its own.




Various ‘Plague Song’
(Via Bandcamp) Album/14th August 2020





A plague has descended on all our houses it seems, with no corner of the globe left untouched by Covid-19. Yet not so much a plague in either the Biblical sense or even a 1000th as destructive as the Black Death that left populations decimated Covid-19 predicted effects and the measures being used to contain it and our civil liberties is proving more destructive and stressful. As lockdown lifts for some, only to be reintroduced as clusters break out in localized areas, and thoughts and anxieties can be translated, we’re seeing creatives release their cathartic impressions and traumas.

One such contextualization, instigated by the North Yorkshire based composer, multi-instrumentalist, solo artist and member of Fireworks Night and The Monroe Transfer ensemble, Nick Gill brings together a international cast of experimental artists and composers to interpret the project leader’s pencil-shaded abstract ‘Plague Song’ graphic score. Following in the footsteps of John Cage who first pioneered the concept, Gill sketches a roughly hewn amorphous score that offers a freehand to those invited to respond. With no instructions as to duration, instrumentation or performance style it’s entirely down to the artists to conjure up something evocative; a sonic representation from the elongated funnels and arched lines found beneath sharper cross-hatching scribbled noise. The author of that graphic score does offer his own interpretation however; offering a suitably atmospheric and watery composition of Craig Ward like multi-textural guitar reverberations.

Erring towards the perimeters of ambient, neo-classical and experimental music the guests on this charitable compilation (proceeds going towards Médecins sans Frontières) produce some searching visions of the present mood. Carrying on the imbued literary (Anthony Burgess to Joseph Heller) cross chatter and abstracted resonance of his many sonic adventures in India and Southeast Asia, Oxford polymath Seb Reynolds cuts-up and morphs a recurring “not as fatal” line with the sound of veiled Orient and tram clatter on his take of the score. Others, such as the renowned NYC stage, film and even opera composer Nico Muhly, produce something more sublime and trembling; the composer behind soundtracks for The Reader and Marnie glides towards a skying ascendance of rippling ambient beauty.

In the quasi Sci-fi mood, electronic composer and performer Hainbach generates some strange off-world atmospheres and primal lunar threats with his interpretation: evoking, I think, Bernard Szajner’s Dune imagings. The spherical Canadian team-up of musician, activist and producer Rebecca Foon and Polaris Prize winning singer-songwriter, producer Patrick Watson prove a congruous pairing, offering up an almost cosmically heavenly searing soundtrack of voices obscured in the vapour.

The track list is numerous; too numerous to mention everyone, so I’ll just mention a few more highlights and standouts. Tiece beckon with a signature “witchery” and “smoky” trip-hop soulful jazzy vision that evokes a warped Four Tet, whilst vocalist, sound artist David Michael Curry goes for something more supernatural, strung-out, with his added locational cryptic post-rock bluesy “scene report from Somerville Masc.” And perhaps one of the oddest interpretations, double-bassist and organist composer, arranger Ben Summers takes the listener through shades of South America, jazzy cocktail hour club soiree and 60s Italian soundtracks: a million miles removed from the compilations leitmotif of shared mysterious ominous drones and recondite ambient carpeting.

Gill’s original graphics are lent a swathe of interpretations, some less somber than others, from a cosmology of contemporary composers. A survey of mood pieces, from science fiction augurs to introspective concentrations. Yet seldom does the soundtrack wallow in the darkness, or creep into nightmares, which considering the title seems both optimistic and a relief. Plague Song is a worthy embrace of the uncertain; a translation of abstract stress and danger given an expansive treatment.






Map 71 ‘Turn Back Metropolis’
(Foolproof Projects/Fourth Dimension Records) Album/4th September 2020





Just the sort of J.G Ballard and Anthony Burgess flavoured dystopian claustrophobia we need in these pandemic striven times; the estuary high-rise colliding duo of disillusioned poet and artist Lisa Jayne and pounding sonic foil Andy Pyne deliver a skulking barrage from the edges of the inner city and suburban wastelands. Under the Map 71 cover they release a fifth album sound-clash of post punk electronica, no wave, post Krautrock and tribal industrial music.

Turn Back Metropolis finds the urban-planners of derision and concrete hardened social realism back in the stairwells and landings of a decaying omnipresent city, dreaming of escapism: “The fields are in sight of the city, but there’s a curfew and the city waits for your return.”

Against the stench of this imposed backdrop of societal misdemeanors, the grime of everyday existence is lyrically and starkly drip-fed by Lisa over beating toms, slinking dub, sporadic drumming, alarmed synths, contorted metals and London swagger. Lisa channels a petulant Ari Up and Viv Albertine, whilst Andy, at any onetime, conjures up an accompaniment of Cabaret Voltaire, Fad Gadget, PiL, The Au Pairs, Lonelady, 80s Rick Rubin and The Classical.

Seething yet composed, they stalk their subjects like prey through the entrancing, spiraling and more cutting on a futuristic punk album of malcontent. Tracks such as the squalling, speed-shifting, arcade-fire over-surge ‘Highrise’ can induce vertigo, and the rattling ‘Stitches’ evokes a seedy switch-bladed administered trauma. Descriptively as livid as it is poetically brilliant, with a musically edgy, harrowing but crafted sonic accompaniment to match, Map 71 delivers another sinister violent architectural imposing shockwave.





Related posts from the Archives:

Map 71 ‘Sado-Technical-Exercise’ Review



Andrew Heath ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’
(Disco Gecko) Album/4th September 2020





Carrying the torch for the kind of ambient and neo-classical swathes and calmly evolving ruminations pioneered by such luminaries as Roedelius, Andrew Heath is a maestro of, what he calls, “small-case minimalism”. Lucky enough to work with the self-taught acolyte and co-founder of the electronic music and kosmsiche legends Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc, Heath has obviously picked up some ideas from the best in the field. The English composer of refined, understated evocations collaborated with Roedelius on both the Meeting The Magus and Triptych In Blue suites.

The “magus” pupil has become the “alchemist” on this latest exploration of minimalism, texture, tone and the “sonic detritus that litters our environment”. Using, as ever, a kind of English pastoral and esoteric poetry to reference moods and locations, as well as the sources of some of his field recordings, Heath counterbalances his naturalistic settings with delicately played (but deeply felt) piano, resonating electric guitar, and on the album’s title track the swan like and sonorous bass-clarinet of guest Bill Howgego, and of course the various apparatus that transmits those soft, veiled ambient tones and gossamer atmospheres. This translates into translucent compositions that merge the intercom chatter of a pilot’s radio with dropped bauble piano notes and stratospheric gliding, on the opening piece ‘Observers And Airmen’, and the squawk of a woodland menagerie and running water with Eno-esque pining scenic mystery and alien wiry quivers, on ‘Of Mill Leats And The Walter Meadows’.

Hints, traces of voice can be found throughout, but its Heath’s second guest, Romanian poet, writer and journalist Maria Stadnika, who offers the most fragile and emotional. Returning, after appearing on heath’s 2018 Evanfall album, Stadnika’s sighed wistful whispery ‘The Garden Reveals Itself’ receives a ‘Night Mix’ re-run. The senses of those waiting on the inevitable cycle of life and other such poignant chimes on the passing of time are soundtracked with an accentuated magical dreamy night garden score.

Recorded at his home in the Cotswolds’ earlier in the year, and framed as an album that provides a certain sense of calm and tranquility, Heath’s idyllic set piece is indeed rich with moments of stillness and contemplation. It all sounds serenely beautiful. From the announcer on the subway vignette ‘A Good Service,’ to the wooing undercurrents of ‘The Muse And Her Dreams’, both echoes of daily life blend with more mysterious surroundings in a superb sound collage. Ambient music it seems is in good hands, Heath’s seventh album for the Disco Gecko label is a sublime patient suite that offers a rest in these most troubling, intense times.





Archives:

Andrew Heath And Toby Marks ‘Motion’ Review

Andrew Heath ‘Soundings’ Review

Andrew Heath ‘Evenfall’ Review tof068



Staraya Derevnya ‘Inwards Opened The Floor’
(Raash Records) Album/4th September 2020





A culmination of Café OTO Project Space recorded performances from 2017 and additional material from that same year to 2019, the latest avant-garde inter-dimensional experiment from the Russian-Israeli straddling Staraya Derevnya is part of treble release schedule. Alongside the featured Inwards Opened The Floor there’s also a duo of improvisations recorded with Hans Grusel’s Kranken Kabinet entitled Still Life With Apples, released on cassette by Steep Gloss, and more live material under the OTO/Tusk title, released as a double CD spread by TQN-aut. A veritable bonanza of imaginative, much improvised albums from the St. Petersburg metro stop adorned group; though I’m going to concentrate on just the hallucinatory doors-of-perception opening opus, an expansive set of traverses, deconstructive marches and post-punk harangues built around lyrics inspired by the poems of Arthur Molev.

Expanding to accommodate up to twelve musicians, and an assemblage of musique concrete apparatus, radio waves, voices and more conventional instruments the Staraya Derevnya inhabit a shrouded soundscape of kosmische, post-punk and what can only be described as a kind of krautrock folk – think a meeting of The Faust Tapes and Can’s Unlimited scrapes and incipient windows in on cut short experiments but extended and more rhythmic.

Developing, magically entitled tracks such as ‘On How The Thorny Orbs Got Here’ drift off almost dreamily to a hushed narration and strung-out jazzy clarinet, brassy sonorous vibrations and short drum rolls, whilst the attic toy box clockwork march of ‘Chirik’ Is Heard From The Treetops’ chugs along at first like a wooden top Ballet Russes but then takes on a more traumatic force of industrial hooting and ripped, revved guitar: Russian folklore goes bananas.

Kazoos, rocking chairs, a not so “silent cello” help create a mysterious aura throughout: one that moves between the strained and distressed, the ambient and biting. For instance garroting wire cello and wooden tubular like percussion tangle with speed-shift space void effects and scrapes on the menacing ‘Hogweed Is Done With Buckwheat’, and on the almost swooning existential romance ‘Burning Bush And Apple Sauces’; soup plops, a radio broadcasted talky duet and a collage of piano and strings echo with hints of late Popul Vuh, OMD and the Pale Fountains.

The poetry is as whispery, haunting as it is erratic and harassed on these most probing clattery, screamed, rasped but equally fantastical tracks. I’m hooked. This is an astonishing set of cross-city amorphous urges, lingers and deconstructions like no other; an avant-garde wandering into the tapestry of Russian folklore and magic dream realism.




Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Playlist/Dominic Valvona/Brian “Bordello” Shea/Matt Oliver





For those of you that have only just joined us as new followers and readers, our former behemoth Quarterly Playlist Revue is now no more! With a massive increase in submissions month-on-month, we’ve decided to go monthly instead in 2020. The June playlist carries on from where the popular quarterly left off; picking out the choice tracks that represent the Monolith Cocktail’s eclectic output – from all the most essential new Hip-Hop cuts to the most dynamic music from across the globe. New releases and the best of reissues have been chosen by me, Dominic Valvona, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Matt Oliver.

Tracklist In Full:


Thiago Nassif  ‘Soar Estranho’
Freak Heat Waves  ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’
Lithics  ‘Hands’
Ammar 808 ft. Susha  ‘Marivere Gati’
Bab L’ Bluz  ‘Gnawa Beat’
The Koreatown Oddity ft. Taz Arnold  ‘Ginkabiloba’ 
Koma Saxo  ‘Koma Mate’
Wish Master  ‘Write Pages’
Gee Bag, Illinformed  ‘I Can Be (Sam Krats Remix)’
Gorilla Twins  ‘Highs & Lows’
Jeffrey Lewis  ‘Keep It Chill In The East Village’
Armand Hammer  ‘Slew Foot’
Public Enemy  ‘State Of The Union’
Run The Jewels  ‘Yankee And The Brave (ep.4)’
Gaul Plus  ‘Church Of The Motorway’
Tamburi Neri  ‘Indio’
Ty, Durrty Goodz  ‘The Real Ones’
Fierro Ex Machina  ‘A Sail Of All Tears’
Skyzoo  ‘Turning 10’
Kahil El’Zabar ft. David Murray  ‘Necktar’
Afel Bocoum  ‘Avion’
Etienne de la Sayette  ‘Safari Kamer’
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Stuck In The Middle Of A Week’
Scarlet’s Well  ‘Sweetmeat’
Campbell Sibthorpe  ‘Good Lord’
Westerman  ‘Drawbridge’
The Fiery Furnaces  ‘Down At The So And So On Somewhere’
Kutiman  ‘Copasavana’
Caleb Landry Jones  ‘The Great I Am’
Bedd  ‘You Have Nice Things’
The Original Magnetic Light Parade  ‘Confusion Reigns’
Cosse  ‘Sun Forget Me’
Bananagun  ‘Modern Day Problems’
Salem Trials  ‘Head On Rong’
Lucidvox  ‘Runaway’
HighSchool  ‘Frosting’
Jon Hassell  ‘Fearless’

All our monthly playlists so far in 2020

 

 

 

 


Album Review/Matt Oliver




Telemachus ‘Boring And Weird Historical Music’
(High Focus) LP/Available Now


His involvement with everyone who’s anyone in UK hip-hop – Verb T, Ocean Wisdom, Kashmere, M9, The Last Skeptik, Jam Baxter and legions more – lead to The Guardian lauding Telemachus/Chemo as “one of those slightly obscure figures who has helped British hip-hop move along more than most people will probably ever know”. Unlikely as it is that his work there will ever be done, Boring & Weird Historical Music reinforces the producer’s perspectives that have been broadening since 2013’s In The Evening. Notwithstanding the casting of Roc Marciano and Jehst, it was a classy spreading of wings as exploration of textures through a lens took root.

A year later, the breakaway In Morocco continued a bid for calm and knowledge, gathering aromatic instrumental dialects from where the sun sets, for the consummate expedition while couch-bound and down. Album number three doesn’t need the reverse psychology of the title, but it does make definitive the promotion of Telemachus to adventurer and alchemist, simmering down soul, jazz, funk, indigenous rhythms and found sounds raised at the mercy of voodoo forces and meditative properties.

For those wanting sounds formed through and for sensory deprivation, ‘Disaster Enabled Vending Machines’ (the new, unofficial byword for chillout), the bassy ‘Beaten Gold’ and ‘Caroline What Is Wrong With You’ are pro-lockdown, promoting classic trip hop incubation to soothe and shield from the sun with. Depending on your energy levels, either use them to expand your mind from the horizontal position as attainable exotica, or just to provide companionship, setting a tone that puts a barrier between you and the dusky, dusty heat generated by the maddening crowd outside.

However, for all the measured, karmic twangs a la Khruangbin or Skinshape, perpetual percussion, synth lines that shapeshift in the ear of the beholder, and dubby, desert shimmer soaking up pressure before coolly exhaling, it’s that unshakeable but defined trepidation that becomes the album’s fulcrum. Opening track ‘Ungraceful Piano Sequence’ sets a fork in the road asking you to choose your own adventure, and ‘You Wanted a Handful of Sardines, Did You Not’ could well lead you to a boiling pot of cannibalism as you find yourself making your way through dimly lit undergrowth. On ‘I Am Delicious and Cute So I Will Buy Again’ and ‘Battle Sequence’, the tiptoeing on eggshells forces you to face your fears and not just cock half an ear, widening the album’s shrewd unpredictability as it looks both ways before ambling off the beaten track.

‘Greed’, overseen by Jerome Thomas, aims to cleanse souls with stark warnings in hushed tones, and ‘By the Moon’, teased by RHI, is another example of the album’s sequencing tersely tugging at the comfort zone you think Telemachus has laid on. The dark carnival of ‘Wickedest Ting’ featuring Killa P is an unsuspecting but no less welcome mantrap, the main difference being that it’s brought out into the open kicking and screaming, instead of attempting to hide in plain sight.

As a storyteller passing around rolling papers and whose travelogue bears no tall tales despite the signs indicating otherwise, Boring & Weird… is a groggy but high functioning experience – it has to be given that the wonder of taking in the surroundings is speckled with Telemachus’ pessimism, where the recommended reclining could lead you down the back of the sofa like quicksand. The flippant titles back the theory that for all the shadows cast and enlightenment he fulfills, Telemachus is still in the entertaining business, leading category makers a merry dance. Certainly on first listen the overriding sensation is of comfort and immersion, but soon you’ll be wanting Boring & Weird… to be the soundtrack to your insomnia, punctuated by the quotations of a sensei floating and fleshing out the fable as you take a fine toothcomb to the clues left by its enigmatic, noir-ish sage. The album’s conclusion, ‘Fools Gold’ starring Chris Belson, is suitably ambiguous – the instrumentation suggests happy ending, the vantage point vocals deem that the battle is nowhere near over.

The authenticity of Chemo’s darker-than-you-think epiphanies, producing as he lives it from his lookout post and switching up significance/fantasy and reality with invisible stitching, make it good for both under the stars and the duvet. With some inevitability, the enjoyment of what it means to be weird means the boring never transpires.





Matt Oliver

Unable to kick the reviewing habit for what is now the best part of fifteen years, Matt Oliver has gone from messing around with music-related courseworks and DIY hip-hop sites to pass time in sixth form and university, to writing for/putting out of business a glut of magazine review sections and features pages in both the UK and the US. A minor hip-hop freak in junior school, he has interviewed some serious names in the fields of both hip-hop and dance music – from Grandmaster Flash to Iggy Azalea – and as part of what is now a glorified hobby (seriously, every magazine he used to turn up at bit the dust within weeks), can also be found penning those little bits of track info you find on Beatport and Soundcloud, or the notes that used to come with your promo CD in the post (visit here for more details). He’s currently giving the twitter thing a go, so follow him at@brimupnorth.

Premiere/Dominic Valvona 




Admlithi ‘Radal’
(In Black Records) Single/22nd May 2020


The mysterious Scottish enigma Admlithi returns from the veils with a minor opus of gossamer and gliding synthesized hymnal beauty. Following on from his 2018 debut album for Armellodie Records, Tyrants, the producer and multi instrumentalist breathes diaphanous life into his latest mini-opus ‘Radal’; a hushed, attentive epic that takes its title from the manufactures of the buoyant tubular sounding electronic tabla that drives it along (purchased, we’re told, at a car boot sale for five pounds: now that’s what you call a bargain).

Already using an eclectic palette of post-punk, electronica and jittered psychedelics, with influences as diverse as The Associates, The Chameleons, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk, Japan and Erasure, Admlithi now channels the sophisticated searing and atmospheric synth work of Vangelis as he subtly reaches towards the heavenly stratosphere. Yet despite the reverent and unearthly vapours, lyrically the song is about “trying to dig tunnels back to the happiest time in your life only to find the earth is full of boulders.” Travails have seldom sounded so scenic and hallowed.

The Monolith Cocktail is delighted to be sharing that single, released through our pals at the Glasgow label hub In Black Records, ahead of its release on the 22nd May.






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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